Category: honey

Grandma Dotty’s mini honey cakes.

Each year I do a lot of Easter recipes for you guys. Tons of cute little cupcakes & muffins & stuff. But this year, I wasn’t really feeling it. I know for Sunday’s dinner I’ll probably make little bunny cupcakes or flowery cupcakes or something… but in the weeks leading up to it this year, I didn’t have it in me.

Grandma Dotty's honey cake recipe.

It’s probably because of the passing of Grandma Dotty. Its had us pretty down lately. And we’ve been spending a lot of time looking through her photos, going through her things, and reading those hand-written recipes.

So I figured why not make one of her recipes?

The one that immediately jumped out at me with Passover being here was the honey cake. Honey cake is a very popular & beloved item in Jewish cooking. Usually it’s made for Rosh Hashanah, sometimes Purim. Here’s a little more about the honey cake tradition:

Luckily, honey cake is dripping with tradition. Variations of honey-sweetened desserts have existed for thousands of centuries and in far-flung locales, from Ancient Egypt and Rome to China. Recent archaeological discoveries of beehives in Tel Rehov, Israel, also suggest that biblical Israel was indeed a land of milk and honey. According to Stephen Buchmann’s book, “Letters From the Hive: An Intimate History of Bees, Honey, and Humankind” (Bantam, 2005), German-Christian pilgrims developed a taste for honey cake on their trips to the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. They enjoyed the dish enough to take it home, where it developed over time into its contemporary form.

Not surprisingly, the first Jewish honey cakes (or lekach, which comes from the German word lecke, meaning “lick”) originated in Germany around this time. During this period, the dessert was primarily eaten on Purim and Shavuot and sometimes served as a treat for young yeshiva students. As Gil Marks notes in “The World of Jewish Cooking” (Simon & Schuster, 1996):

“Honey was smeared on a slate containing the letters of the alphabet and the child licked them off so that the ‘words of the Torah may be sweet as honey.’ Afterward, the aspiring scholar was presented with honey cakes, apples and hard-boiled eggs.”

From Germany, the dish traveled to Eastern Europe, where Jews celebrated with honey cakes at simkhot (happy occasions) and holidays alike. According to Marks, the overall use of honey as an ingredient declined in Eastern European cooking during the 17th century but remained popular in Jewish cuisine.

-Source

Now, the fact that it’s leavened & includes wheat flour & confectioner’s sugar (among other “chametz“) would generally rule this cake out for Passover enjoyment. But since I’m not Jewish by birth nor am I (or Jay) religious in any capacity, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m doing this as a tribute to Dotty, not a religious symbol.

Grandma Dotty's honey cake recipe turned into mini cakes.

If you’re Jewish & you’re obeying the laws of Judaism, you know whether or not it’s okay to eat. Maybe wait until after Passover to try it? Or flex your culinary muscles by altering the recipe to use almond flour or matzoh meal? Alternately, they also make delicious little Easter cupcakes. Honestly they’re really great for any occasion. Even just an average Friday.

I used Langnese, an imported German honey in them, but Golden Blossom would taste great too ’cause of the orange. Just be sure to use a REAL honey. A lot of the honey you find in stores today is just high fructose corn syrup mixed with a little honey.

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Four & Twenty Blackbirds baked in a salty honey pie.

A few months ago, back during the height of “pie season”, my mother sent me a link to Daily Candy that featured this pie. The name intrigued me: Salty honey pie. Sounded awesome. As far as I’m concerned salted anything is pretty delicious- salted caramel, salted chocolate, etc.

I know of this pie shop & the name is pretty awesome. Not only that, but the cover of the book is awesome too:

The Four & Twenty Blackbirds pie book.

So anyway, now that the holidays have wound down & I’m not on a baking schedule of specific traditional treats, I thought I’d make this salted honey pie & see how it is. See if it lives up to the idea of deliciousness that I (& everyone else) has in my head. I made it twice (this is the second one). The first one didn’t look that great because I used a larger pie plate than I should have for the sake of convenience, and the crust slid down into the filling. This one was ultimately the better-looking one, so aesthetically speaking it “won.” However both tasted fantastic.

Salty honey pie recipe from Four + Twenty Blackbirds pie shop.

I think it’s Jay’s new favorite pie.

And I am always, ALWAYS bad at pie crust. Always. I just can’t get it perfect, ever. Oh well.

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Medicinal pickled garlic & other hippie stuff.

As loath as I am to label people, I admit at times it’s easier to put people in categories or boxes. So I have to say: I’m not a hippie. I’m pretty far from a hippie, really. Just because I like growing my own vegetables, walking barefoot most of the time & making my own bread doesn’t mean I have any hippie-ness in me. I’m quite the opposite- I’m all spikes, short hair (sometimes I’m known to rock a mohawk), heavy boots & black eye makeup/nail polish. Being a punk rock fashionista who went to school for fashion design, for me hippies were always dirty druggies who didn’t have enough self pride to shower, wear bras, style their hair or wear shoes that weren’t Jesus sandals. Although the questioning of authority part & “tree-hugging” things are just fine with me, there are other parts of the ethos I just can’t dig on, man.

And the clothes?

A bunch of hippies, doin' their hippie thing.

Ugh.

However, making your own everything, also known as D.I.Y., is a HUGE thing to me. I’ve been doing it for years; from cutting & dying my own hair, to making clothes & accessories & jewelry to the hand-painted cloth punk rock band patches/t-shirts I was known for creating in high school. It was only once I got into cooking & baking that I started making my own foods; pickles & jams, salad dressing, infused oils, drying my own herbs, and harnessing the power of things like vinegar (it cleans & cures EVERYTHING!). So if that alone makes you a hippie by definition, then… I guess I really am one.

I just dress better than most.

Medicinal pickled garlic- get rid of that congestion!

But then again my mother is kind of a hippie. A well-dressed hippie who wears J. Crew & Ann Taylor with ballet flats, that is. She always prints out for me or forwards me interesting articles, homemade medicines, tinctures, recipes or blog posts. Most of the time, it’s stuff she wants me to make for her, but other times it’s how-to’s, tutorials, craft ideas, etc. Recently it was a blog post from Cheryl’s Delights about medicinal pickled garlic (which is stinkier & not nearly as fun, one would imagine, as medicinal marijuana- but not that I’d know from experience). The recipe comes from Rosemary Gladstar’s Medicinal Herbs: A Beginner’s Guide. According to that book:

“Garlic is the herb of choice in treating colds, flu, sore throats and poor or sluggish digestion… makes a potent internal and external antiseptic, antibacterial, and antimicrobial agent effective for treating many types of infection.”

The benefits of garlic are too long to list here, seriously. But I do suggest you go take a quick gander at the Wikipedia entry, so you can get a basic idea of just how good for you it really is. And if you’re not a fan of garlic breath you can take garlic supplements. However, if you’re pregnant, you might want to avoid taking garlic supplements, or at least talk to your doctor about it, as it can cause an increased risk of bleeding.

So anyway, my mother prints out the blog post, and I knew she wanted me to make her a jar of this. Seeing as how I’m the “pickling queen” around these here parts, and also probably because I’ve got more jars than I need at any given moment (which means plenty to spare), I knew it just made sense. The recipe seemed easy enough so I made a small 4 oz. jar of it as a test. Also because at the time, I only had two bulbs of garlic, I didn’t want to use up both of them and one bulb just filled that jar.

Medicinal pickled garlic.

I’ve only just started this batch exactly a month ago, so I haven’t had a chance to get to part 2 (the honey part). I’ll probably do that some time this week.

It’s kind of a shame I didn’t know about this over the winter, since garlic is supposed to help with colds & flu… not to mention vampires. Although I wouldn’t mind some of those. Anyway, the deal is, this is supposed to preserve all the benefits of fresh garlic without the really harsh bite fresh garlic can have. Apparently it’s much milder this way and you can eat it out of the jar like candy. If candy tasted like garlic. Which it really doesn’t. I love garlic, but let’s face it, it ain’t exactly a Snickers bar. And that’s precisely why I prefer my garlic roasted, or sauteed, or in sauce, etc.

I’ll skip the raw garlic, thanks. My mom will be the guinea pig with this one.

Medicinal pickled garlic.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Fill a jar with peeled fresh cloves of garlic (any size jar).
  2. Pour raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar (I used Bragg’s) over the garlic until it’s “covered.”
  3. Put lid on the jar & leave jar in a warm place for 3-4 weeks.
  4. After 3-4 weeks, strain off the liquid into a glass measuring cup. Set aside half of that liquid to use in another capacity (quick pickles, marinades, salad dressing, etc).
  5. Take the remaining half and pour it into a saucepan with an equal amount of raw local honey. Heat over a very low heat, no more than 100° F so as not to kill the good stuff in the honey, stirring until the vinegar & honey are mixed.
  6. Pour that mixture back over the garlic. Allow to sit for ANOTHER 3-4 weeks, it should keep for a year.
  7. Eat!

Just so you know, however: the garlic might change color, to a green or a blue. This is totally normal & is quite common in pickling (for example, click here). It’s harmless & doesn’t effect the flavor or safety of the product- it’s just a chemical reaction. If you need proof, here’s a webpage from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences explaining the exact reason behind it. These photos were taken shortly after making them, but within a week some of the cloves were greenish blue. I PROMISE YOU, as strange as it looks, it is 100% fine to eat.

Pickled garlic using raw apple cider vinegar & raw local honey- it's not just food but medicine.

So when it’s all said & done, I’ll pass it on to my mother, and she’ll let me know how it is so I can update you all. Until then, if you’re into more homemade medicinals or folk medicines, try these: lemon-&-spice-infused honey to prevent colds & flu, homemade Neosporin, homemade cough syrup, and homemade Vapo-Rub.

Ya damn hippies.

Leftover blackberry honey syrup.

Don’t you love when you’re reading an old book & the author wrote it as ‘sirop’? It’s so old timey or foreign. I know sirop is the French way of spelling syrup, but it seems that a lot of books written in the 1700′s or 1800′s write it that way, too. Makes sense since it comes from the Latin ‘siropus.’ But anything written in another language (or in an old way) is more attractive. Like, for example, this recipe would be ‘Sirop de mûres e miel’ in French. So lovely.

Are you tired of my history of language lesson yet?

Blackberries always intrigued me. I’m not a fan of the flavor of berries, let’s just get that out in the open right now. I can tolerate strawberries, but I’m not a huge fan by any means. I’m a big apple girl (both figuratively & literally- I  NY, too) and I love citrus. Berries? Nah. Not for me. But regardless, I love looking at them, touching them, cooking with them. I come from a family of berry fiends… which is good, because I get to satisfy my curiosity without wasting food. I didn’t grow up near a blackberry bramble. There are no wild berries growing in my yard, however we did have a flowering crabapple tree. My berry encounters were not on a farm or in the wild country, but supermarkets & restaurants & as the flavoring in gum. Blue raspberry anything still makes me queasy to this day, by the way.

I came up with this idea because after finishing that blackberry whateveryouwannacallit thing I made, I had some blackberries left over. Not enough to make into a jam, really, unless I made about 4 ounces, and that’s not really worth the trouble. It was pretty much a decent-sized handful of big, juicy berries. And blackberries don’t last long, as you probably know. So I figured I’d make them into a syrup using some honey.

Waste not, want not.

I didn’t use a recipe, so I honestly have no idea what measurements to tell you to use. You aren’t going to be canning this; it’s just for immediate use or storage in the refrigerator, so there’s no concern about adding acidity or the amount of sugar, etc. The more honey you add, the more syrup you’ll get. The more berries you add, the more syrup you’ll get. I made it about even, which gives a stronger berry flavor. If you have more honey than berry, the flavor will be more honey & vice versa. You get the idea.

You can use it for pancakes/waffles, you can stir a little bit into some lemonade & toss in some whole berries for a nice summer drink or use it as the base for a cocktail. I’m sure a lighter bourbon like Basil Hayden’s would be interesting mixed with a bit of this. Also, use it as a salad dressing base: mix it with a little red wine vinegar & olive oil, you’ve got yourself a blackberry honey vinaigrette. Even better, mix it with some blackberry vinegar, if you’ve got it.

Keeping all that in mind, this is what I did:

  • I rinsed off & dried the berries. Only do this right before using them, or else you’ll end up with moldy fruit.
  • I put the clean fruit into a medium saucepan and mashed them with a fork. It’s not necessary to make sure they’re completely smooshed- just enough to release a bit of juice.
  • I added about a half cup of honey (more is fine), and turned on the heat to medium-low, stirring with a wooden spoon so nothing scorches.
  • Keep stirring and gently mashing the berries, incorporating them with the honey. The mixture should be a reddish color now. Keep cooking & stirring.
  • Cook, stirring pretty frequently, until it’s reduced & thickened slightly, and it’s a dark, foamy syrup with little round berry bits & guts in it. Don’t worry, you’re straining that out.
  • Add a dash of pure vanilla extract and stir well. Almond extract works too, but nothing at all is fine. The blackberry honey flavor is enough!
  • Clean a jar, put it on a tea towel on your counter or table and place a strainer over the top. Depending on the amount of berries/honey you’re using, you might need a pint jar. Pour the mixture into the strainer little by little, pressing down with a rubber spatula to extract more syrup. When all the syrup is out of it, scoop it into the garbage and pour more of the mixture in, then repeat.
  • Once you’re finished, place a lid on the jar and let it cool. Once cooled, refrigerate or use immediately.

It’s insanely simple, and it makes use of even the smallest amount of leftover blackberries. I’m pretty sure it would work with blueberries or raspberries as well.

Also? It’s pretty.

Leftover blackberry honey syrup

Flu fighting sorbet, anyone?

Now that Valentine’s Day is over & there’s one whole month until you’ll be ingesting green beer, feel free to get sick. No seriously. After reading this post, you just might not mind it so much. Okay… that’s a lie. You will. But at least this will ease your suffering just a bit.

A couple of years ago, on a hot summer night, me & my other half were being lazy, drinking some beers & watching a show on either the Food Network or the Travel Channel & it just so happened that on said show they featured Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. We were immediately attracted to the variety of hand-crafted ice creams & sorbets; specifically the ones like the cherry lambic sorbet & the whiskey pecan. Unfortunately we don’t live in Ohio, and it was the peak of summertime so there was no way we’d chance having ice cream shipped to NY, dry ice or no dry ice. And even if we had, it wouldn’t have arrived that night! So we were two sad pandas.

Cut to about two or three weeks ago… I discovered the newest thing in sorbets: the influenza sorbet. Genius! We’ve all been sick here on and off all winter, with either a mild flu-ish thing or a stomach thing or some other weird thing that gave us insane headaches, and I wish I had had some of this on hand. The idea of a FLU FIGHTING SORBET!? Holy balls. I love it. Now, apparently, the company has changed the name to the Hot Toddy sorbet because seemingly there were some idiots who thought either the sorbet contained the flu or actually cured the flu. But either way the concept & ingredients stayed the same! Orange & lemon juice, honey, ginger, cayenne pepper and of course, Maker’s Mark. Perfect for when your throat starts to hurt, and you can’t keep anything heavy down. An icy cold citrus-y delight, with a hit of bourbon & ginger, and cayenne pepper so subtle you probably won’t even know it’s there. But at $12 a pint, and it being all the way in Ohio… I knew I wasn’t getting my hands on any.

I decided I was going to come up with my own recipe and make my own version of Jeni’s infamous flu sorbetto.

But see, I don’t have Maker’s Mark. I have other bourbons. So I used Basil Hayden’s bourbon instead, because it’s a milder one, and I’m not such a crazy bourbon fan. I’ve gotta say though.. the idea of it this sorbet made me really happy. Really, really happy. And Jay has quite the selection to choose from… but I chose Basil. Of course, this is NOT Jeni’s recipe, this is my own creation. And it can be tweaked to accentuate whatever ingredient you want to be the main player. Just don’t add too much bourbon- it won’t freeze properly. And because I didn’t use an ice cream maker, it’s more of a granita. So that’s what we’ll officially call it:

Influenza Granita.

Granita (in Italian also granita siciliana) is a semi-frozen dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings. Originally from Sicily, although available all over Italy (but granita in Sicily is somewhat different from the rest of Italy), it is related to sorbet and italian ice. However, in most of Sicily, it has a coarser, more crystalline texture. Food writer Jeffrey Steingarten says that “the desired texture seems to vary from city to city” on the island; on the west coast and in Palermo, it is at its chunkiest, and in the east it is nearly as smooth as sorbet.[1] This is largely the result of different freezing techniques: the smoother types are produced in a gelato machine, while the coarser varieties are frozen with only occasional agitation, then scraped or shaved to produce separated crystals. Although its texture varies from coarse to smooth, it is always different from the one of an ice cream which is creamier, and from the one of a sorbet, which is more compact; this makes granita distinct and unique.

Influenza, commonly known as the ‘flu’ , is an infectious disease of birds and mammals caused by RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae, the influenza viruses. The most common symptoms are chills, fever, sore throat, muscle pains, headache (often severe), coughing, weakness/fatigue and general discomfort.[1]Although it is often confused with other influenza-like illnesses, especially the common cold, influenza is a more severe disease caused by a different type of virus.[2] Influenza may produce nausea and vomiting, particularly in children,[1] but these symptoms are more common in the unrelated gastroenteritis, which is sometimes inaccurately referred to as “stomach flu” or “24-hour flu”.[3]

INFLUENZA GRANITA, A.K.A. THE FLU FIGHTING SORBET

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups orange juice (preferably freshly squeezed, but a low sugar or all-natural bottled variety will work)
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice (or regular lemon juice, but it must be fresh squeezed!)
  • 1/4 cup regular lemon juice (fresh squeezed)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar plus two tablespoons
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon GOOD bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • anywhere from a pinch to 1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, depending on taste or intensity of illness

Directions:

  1. Put the orange & lemon juices & sugar in a medium saucepan. Stir over low heat to dissolve sugar. Once sugar is dissolved, raise heat to medium & add honey, 2 tablespoons of bourbon, ginger & cayenne. Stir well. Bring to a boil.
  2. Once everything is boiled, add the last teaspoon bourbon. Stir. Strain into a container and let cool to almost room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from freezer and whisk to crush ice crystals. Re-wrap and re-freeze. Continue doing this once every hour for 4-5 hours with either a whisk or a fork.
  3. Before you serve, if the mixture is still too chunky or icy, simply beat (in a cold bowl) with an electric mixer on low until fluffy. DO NOT LET IT MELT. Place it back into container and re-freeze until it sets. Serve & enjoy!

If you’ve got an ice cream maker or attachment (like I do, but I forgot to freeze the bowl before hand so I had to do this the manual way), then you can just freeze it according to the manufacturer’s directions. You’ll end up, most likely, with a smoother, softer less chunky version. More like sorbet, less like Italian ice. It doesn’t really matter what the texture is, though, as long as it isn’t just a crunchy block of ice. And even then, you could really just shave off pieces to eat. So it doesn’t matter much what you end up with. Oh- and Meyer lemons are way sweeter than regular lemons. So if you use all regular lemons, you might want to up the sugar amount. Remember: the cold lessens & dulls the sweetness of the sugar, but also remember that too much sugar will result in the same problem as too much bourbon in that it just won’t freeze properly.

Now, in no way am I telling you this will cure your flu (or your cold, or pneumonia or whatever you’re suffering with). What I will say is that there’s a lot of Vitamin C in here, and in addition honey, lemon & ginger are known for their flu-fighting properties. Cayenne pepper thins mucus, allowing you to breathe again. Plus, not only is bourbon an old-timey “helper” for all illnesses, it helps numb a sore throat a bit, as does the bracing cold iciness of the granita. No dairy to increase mucus production, either!

And if you want something hot to soothe what ails you, then you should definitely make a few jars of spiced honey. I guarantee you between this granita & some hot tea with spiced honey in it, you’ll be feeling better in no time. And if you aren’t… there’s always that NyQuil too.

Cold & flu season be damned.

Yup. It’s that time of year again. FLU SEASON.

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Confession time: I have never gotten a flu shot. Ever. Not when my mother was on chemo, not when my grandmother was over 90 years old and I was taking care of her, not when I took the train into Manhattan every day during the winter with sweaty, stinky people coughing & sneezing all over me. Not even when I was still in college & they “highly recommended it.” I never once got the flu, and in turn never once gave anyone else the flu. And don’t lecture me- I don’t plan on ever getting a flu shot, unless I’m in a compromising situation health-wise. First of all, I recently read a study that said that green tea supplements actually worked better to prevent the flu than vaccinations. And also, another study that said due to the aluminum content in the shots, adults who received 5 or more flu shots were 10% more likely to get Alzheimer’s than those who had 2 or fewer. And that was substantiated by an article I had read last year. True or not true, substantiated or not, outdated or not, it brings up a lot of questions. And it doesn’t seem like a risk I’d like to take. I realize health is not something to play around with. I’m not anti-vaccinations (quite the opposite actually), I especially think they’re important for children, and I would never tell anyone else what to do. I’m just not over-dramatic when it comes to my own health. I realize the flu can be serious… but I’m not in a high-risk group. I’m healthy. I’m not pregnant. I don’t have asthma or diabetes. And I much prefer to take my chances and avoid the doctor as much as possible. If I can’t cure it with NyQuil, orange juice, Tylenol and brandy/whiskey, then and only then do I consider a trip to the professionals. I haven’t taken antibiotics in over 4 years.

Why am I telling you this? Because this post is about something you can make and can up that just might help ease some of the misery you might be put through later on in the season, whether you get a flu shot or not.

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It’s spiced honey! Very simple to make, very cheap to make, and it has a lot of health benefits.

Honey historically as been used by humans to treat a variety of ailments, from gastric disturbances to ulcers, wounds and burns, through ingestion or topical application, but only recently have the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of honey been chemically explained. Different honeys have different properties, which was known since ancient times. Much scientific research has been done, with emphasis of late on fighting infections in wounds. The antibacterial mechanisms known to date are H2O2, methylglyoxal(MGO), bee defensin-1, the osmotic effect and the pH.

In Ayurveda, a 4000-year-old medicine originating from India, honey is considered to positively affect all three primitive material imbalances of the body. “Vaatalam guru sheetam cha raktapittakaphapaham| Sandhatru cchedanam ruksham kashayam madhuram madhu|| “It has sweetness with added astringent as end taste. It is heavy, dry and cold. Its effect on doshas (imbalances) is that it aggravates vata (air / moving forces), scrapes kapha (mucus / holding forces) and normalizes pitta (catabolic fire) and rakta (blood). It promotes the healing process.” Some wound gels which contain antibacterial raw honey and have regulatory approval are now available to help treat drug-resistant strains of bacteria (MRSA). One New Zealand researcher says a particular type of honey (manuka honey) may be useful in treating MRSA infections.) As an antimicrobial agent honey is useful in treating a variety of ailments. Antibacterial properties of honey are the result of the low water activity causing osmosis, chelation of free Iron, its slow release of hydrogen peroxide,[74] high acidity,[75] and the antibacterial activity of methylglyoxal.

Honey also appears to be effective in killing drug-resistant biofilms which are implicated in chronic rhinosinusitis.

Lemon contains Vitamin C, which helps repel toxins. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial.

Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes”. A study conducted in 2007 and published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry suggests that specific plant terpenoids contained within cinnamon have potent antiviral properties.

Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis.[34] Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.Cinnamon bark, a component of the traditional Japanese medicine Mao-to, has been shown in a 2008 study published in the Journal of General Virology to have an antiviral therapeutic effect. A 2011 study isolated a substance (CEppt) in the cinnamon plant that inhibits development of Alzheimer’s in mice. CEppt, an extract of cinnamon bark, seems to treat a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease.

Cloves (and clove oil) have long been shown in Western studies to assist in aiding with dental pain.However, studies to determine its effectiveness for fever reduction, as a mosquito repellent and to prevent premature ejaculation have been inconclusive. Clove may reduce blood sugar levels.

Tellimagrandin II is an ellagitannin found in S. aromaticum with anti-herpes virus properties. The clove buds have anti-oxidant properties.

But more than any of that- honey is just soothing, especially when ingested in a warm cup of something. So it stands to reason that some honey with lemon, cinnamon and cloves is something you’d want to make and have on hand for those miserable winter days when you wake up feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck, barely able to swallow. But really, it’s equally delicious in a cup of hot black tea (or even better for your health: green tea) right before bed on a cold fall or winter night. You don’t have to be sick to appreciate it. Stir some of this into some hot apple cider. Hell, you can have a little in a glass of Jack Daniels too. They make that honey stuff, don’t they? Why not a spiced honey Jack cocktail?


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SPICED HONEY

Makes three 8-ounce (half-pint) jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 organic lemon, washed thoroughly, end pieces removed and cut into 6 even slices
  • 12 whole cloves
  • 3 cinnamon sticks (4 inches long)
  • 2 2/3 cups liquid honey

Directions:

  1. Sterilize your jars, put your lids in hot water and prepare your water bath canner.
  2. Stud the peel of each lemon slice with two cloves. In a stainless steel saucepan, combine lemon slices, cinnamon sticks and honey. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Boil gently for 2 minutes.
  3. Using tongs, remove lemon slices from honey mixture and place two in each (still hot) jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick to each jar. Ladle the hot honey into the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. Place lids and bands, turning to fingertip tight, and place jars in canner.
  4. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars. Cool, check seal, then store.

Add it to your tea or even drizzle it on your toast. You don’t even have to be sick to enjoy it! It only makes 3 8-oz. jars, and takes no time to pull together. I think you should try making some… in a few months, you might just be glad you did. Especially since the peak of flu season is in February. That’s a long way off, dudes.

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Instead of making 3- 8 oz. jars, I made 2 jars: one 16 oz. and one 8 oz. Not for anything, but a jar of this tied up with a pretty bow and a cute honey dipper would be a great gift to give someone. Not just for a get well gift (although that’s a great idea!), but even for the holidays. Or to bring as a hostess gift on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Just tie a note on it telling them it’s not just for when you’re sick… and they should try it in some hot brandy punch.

I also used two different kinds of honey mixed together, one was a bit lighter in color than the other. Strangely enough, the larger jar I made came out with a deeper color than the smaller jar. Not sure why. It could have been that one honey was a thicker or heavier consistency than the other, and the order in which I poured it into the jars factored in. If you use a flowery honey or Golden Blossom Honey, you’ll get a different flavor. Not a bad flavor at all, it’ll just have more complex notes than the lemon/clove/cinnamon. Also… honey does not expire. A sealed jar of honey can last forever (literally… ). And you don’t have to refrigerate the jars once you open them, since honey is stable at room temperature; the sugar content is too high and the moisture content too low for fungus to grow once it’s opened. According to the National Honey Board:

Honey stored in sealed containers can remain stable for decades and even centuries! However, honey is susceptible to physical and chemical changes during storage; it tends to darken and lose its aroma and flavor or crystallize. These are temperature-dependent processes, making the shelf life of honey difficult to define. For practical purposes, a shelf life of two years is often stated. Properly processed, packaged and stored honey retains its quality for a long time.

If in doubt, throw it out, and purchase a new jar of honey!

So you can open a jar in November and keep that same jar on your counter until spring with no bad consequences. Stay healthy, my fair readers.

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Sources & credits: American Limoges/Sebring Pottery china in “Royal Fortune” pattern; vintage (belonged to my grandmother), 16-oz. & 8-oz. Ball® jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

“Double C” dark chocolate-almond conserves. And stuff.

I realized the other day that I never posted a photo of my new ‘do. Not sure how many of you care, really, but there might be another freak like me out there who’s interested in what a blogger’s hair looks like. It’s blonde now! Well the “long” part is. The “shaved” part is still my natural color, brown. After almost 2 full years of having not only the same hair color but my natural color, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I needed a change.

Stunning, I know.

So that’s what I’ve been up to. And speaking of what I’ve been up to, this is what I did on Superbowl Sunday.

Well, this & go to Trader Joe’s. I love Trader Joe’s. It’s a magical fairy land of fun & exciting things to eat & drink & I love it. Football? Not so much.

But anyway… those are cranberry, cherry dark chocolate-almond conserves. It’s a mouthful, I know (pun intended). But how else can I describe something made with dried cranberry, fresh cranberry, dried tart cherries, honey, sugar, lemon juice, sliced almonds & dark chocolate cocoa powder? It’s just naturally a long-winded item. But honestly, doesn’t it sound good? Yeah, I know it does. And it makes a fantasmagorical ice cream topping, rice pudding topping, a fancy oatmeal topping or even great just out of the jar with a spoon. Ooh, or on those mini-coffee cakes! Here it is on some Chobani vanilla Greek yogurt.

But what exactly is a conserve?

A conserve, or whole fruit jam,[5] is a jam made of fruit stewed in sugar.

Often the making of conserves can be trickier than making a standard jam, because the balance between cooking, or sometimes steeping in the hot sugar mixture for just enough time to allow the flavor to be extracted from the fruit,[6] and sugar to penetrate the fruit, and cooking too long that fruit will break down and liquefy. This process can also be achieved by spreading the dry sugar over raw fruit in layers, and leaving for several hours to steep into the fruit, then just heating the resulting mixture only to bring to the setting point.[5][7] As a result of this minimal cooking, some fruits are not particularly suitable for making into conserves, because they require cooking for longer periods to avoid issues such as tough skins.[6] Currants and gooseberries, and a number of plums are among these fruits.

Because of this shorter cooking period, not as much pectin will be released from the fruit, and as such, conserves (particularly home-made conserves) will sometimes be slightly softer set than some jams.[7]

An alternate definition holds that conserves are preserves made from a mixture of fruits and/or vegetables. Conserves may also include dried fruit or nuts.[8]

I like to think of it as preserves, but with nuts. That may not be scientifically accurate, but it does the job just fine when explaining it.

“DOUBLE C” (CHERRY & CRANBERRY) DARK CHOCOLATE-ALMOND CONSERVES

Makes around 5 4-oz. jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 ounces tart dried cherries
  • 5 ounces fresh cranberries
  • 5 ounces dried sweetened cranberries
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup water
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons unsweetened dark chocolate cocoa powder
  • 1 cup sliced almonds

Directions:

  1. Sterilize jars & lids. Keep jars hot.
  2. Put cranberries & cherries in a saucepan & add water, sugar, honey & lemon juice. Heat on low, stirring, until sugar & lemon juice is dissolved. Add almonds & continue to cook, stirring occasionally until combined.
  3. Raise heat to medium-high and keep stirring to prevent scorching, until mixture thickens, fresh cranberries have popped open completely & dried fruits seem to be rehydrated.
  4. Add cocoa powder and continue cooking until mixture is thickened. Ladle into hot jars, leaving ½”-inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a boiling water canner. Let cool, then check for seal.

You might notice when I’m canning I always have my jars on a towel. That’s because you should never put hot jars directly on a countertop or table; the change in temperature could cause the glass to shatter or crack, even slight cracks. And actually the worst can be really bad weakening of the glass which can cause future cracking or cracking during processing. The towel absorbs the shock better, and is of a more even temperature. Most countertops (like granite) & tables are much cooler than the jars, which is no good. So always have a tea towel or dish towel on your counter or surface for the jars to sit on (especially once they’re removed from the water-bath).

There are many other “canning basics” I’ve never gone into because, well, I’m not a master preserver. Nor is this a specifically canning-oriented blog. It’s mostly about baking; but yes I dabble in canning & also post stuff about cooking, etc. But I thought that maybe for some of you, this is the closest you get to reading a canning blog, so maybe I ought to give you a little background on water-bath canning basics. Water-bath canning is the most popular form of canning pickles, jams, jellies & both high-sugar/high-acidity food products at home. There are a lot of things you shouldn’t can this way, and that you need a pressure canner for, i.e. potatoes, beef/chicken/meats, stews, etc.  But since that’s out of my realm of expertise I’m going to stick to high-sugar/high-acid water-bath canning rules. Just bare bones, mind you. I can’t possibly go into temperatures & acidity & all that. I don’t have that kind of time, yo. For that I ask you travel on over here. But before that you can read these just to get an idea of what goes into a simple water-bath process, and maybe see if this is something you’re into.

  1. You must use canning jars if you want to “preserve” the food; meaning, if you’re making a jam & you’re going to put it in the fridge & eat it now, you can use a Tupperware or old spaghetti sauce jar no problem. If you want a shelf-stable product, you MUST use a jar specifically made for canning. Ball® & Kerr® are the most popular & cost-effective, Walmart sells some of their own brand too I believe, and for you fancy-pants out there, there’s Weck. Canning jars are specifically made to create a vacuum seal & can’t be substituted safely with anything else.
  2. You must have a deep pot. A lobster pot is what I use, but if you’re only planning on using tiny 4-oz. jars or the more shallow Collection Elite® 8-oz. jars (seen in the above photo of the conserves- it’s the large mouth jar to the right), then a deep pasta pot might work for you. Just remember: there must be one to two inches of water over the tops of the jars when they’re in the water. This is a must. You can’t just use a tiny little shallow pot that barely covers your jars.
  3. You must either have a canning rack or devise another method of keeping the jars off the bottom of the pot. Some people use dish towels folded up, some use a bunch of lid rings tied together, whatever. Buy it, steal it, DIY it if you want. Whatever works for you. Find a method that you like (or can afford) and go with it. As long as it keeps the jars from touching the bottom of the pot- you’re good. I like my plastic canning rack, but I don’t do large batch canning so it works for me.
  4. You need tongs with rubber or jar lifters. This may seem like it’s obvious, but I didn’t get any at first and then, when making my first batch of pickles I realized, “Holy shit these jars are fucking hot!” This isn’t an essential, meaning your jars won’t be ruined or inedible without it, but it certainly makes life easier. Who likes third degree burns? Not me.
  5. You need a candy thermometer. This isn’t really a must, necessarily, but I find it makes life a hell of a lot easier, specifically if you’re venturing into jellies & you especially need to know when it reaches that oh-so-important 220° F degrees. Because otherwise, you’ll end up with candy. Or syrup. Jams are more forgiving, as are preserves, but marmalades & jellies, at least I find, require a thermometer. The freezer test or frozen plate test isn’t reliable enough for me. You do not need this for making pickles or Giardiniere.
  6. You must have patience. Canning isn’t necessarily an instant-gratification process. You have to wait for things to set (you haven’t lived until you’ve waited a week for jelly to set, thinking the entire time those five jars might have been a waste of time, money & sweat), you have to wait for pickles to pickle, you have to wait for things to “gel” & cook, and you have to take the time to be careful about each process. At the same time, you must enjoy it. If not- don’t do it.
  7. Different things belong in different jars. Pickles (usually) go in pint or larger size jars. Jams & jellies usually go in half-pint or smaller. Yes, you can put bread & butter pickle slices in an 8-oz. jar & you can definitely put marmalade or jelly in a 16-oz. jar, but just remember: once you (or whoever you give it to) opens that jelly or jam, that’s A LOT to eat. You might end up forgetting it’s in the fridge & wasting it. I prefer smaller jars for the sweet stuff and larger jars for pickles or pickled veggies which not only are eaten more often, but last longer in the fridge. So think about that before you start & be prepared. The exception: peaches or fruit slices in syrup. For that, I’d use large jars.

Now keep in mind there is more that goes into it. Those are just the super basic basic basics of what you need to get started. I suggest you read the USDA’s website, get yourself the Ball® Blue Book Guide to Preserving & the Better Homes & Gardens book, You Can Can!; then thoroughly read through them. Between all of those things you’ll get an idea of the safety basics, must-haves & preparation, then I encourage you to peruse some sites like Hungry Tigress, Food in Jars & Punk Domestics to get an idea of what the possibilities are & what you can do. Then decide if it’s for you. It is not difficult, it’s not brain surgery, but there are definitely things you need to know before you start so you can do it safely.

Before you know it, you’ll be canning your brains out. Which sounds way dirtier than it really is.

Oh honey, low sugar, sugar…

I hope that all you lovebirds had a nice Valentine’s Day. I did. I mentioned last week on Facebook that after my hand mixer died, Jay got me an even better, more awesomer kick-ass KitchenAid model for V-Day! Well its pretty dope; I can’t wait to use it. But that day I got a surprise delivery of some gorgeous red roses/white lilies with chocolates in a beautiful set of fancy boxes, too. I hope you all got equally kick-ass gifts. But more importantly, I hope you don’t need a specific day to show/tell someone you love them or buy them nice things, but I digress. Today’s recipe: low-sugar strawberry jam, made with just one half cup of real sugar. How sweet… or half sweet? Semi sweet? Warning: this is going to be a long post, full of information. But if you’re diabetic/know someone who is, if you’re interested in low-sugar canning or if you’re just interested in natural sugar substitutes in general, then read on. Even if you’re interested in making any kind of jam or jelly using a low-sugar pectin… then this post is for you!

A long, long time ago, back in early April of 2011, I received an e-mail from the folks at Xylitol USA asking me if I’d like to try baking with Xylitol. I had heard of it vaguely, but I didn’t know much about it. It intrigued me, so I said yes, I was very interested. I had forgotten all about it, and ironically, the day my uncle Pat was buried, I came home to find a box on my front steps. That box was the Xylitol delivery..The odd thing about that is that my uncle had diabetes for 40 years, and had lost his eyesight and was on dialysis for 12 years because of it. So to receive a diabetic-safe sugar substitute on the day I had to say goodbye to him was a strange little sign to me. So, Uncle Pat, you aren’t able to take part in this little experiment with me, but I know you probably got a kick out of the coincidence of all of it and you’re somewhere eating ALL the sugar-packed desserts & carbs you want without a care.

(Side note: this is why people talking shit about Paula Deen & her diabetes piss me off. Stop saying people deserve a disease- no matter what the reasoning, no matter what the disease- it’s hurtful, ignorant & insulting. And if you say it in front of me, I’ll knock your teeth out. Especially as someone whose lost an uncle & grandfather no thanks to diabetes & has a mother who is a breast cancer survivor. If you have an issue with her pushing a drug, that’s a different debate. But nobody deserves a disease this debilitating & potentially life-threatening, no matter what they do. And yes, it is indeed a life-threatening disease. It can be managed, but ultimately diabetes most likely will take your life. And honestly, if you don’t like her or her recipes, fine… then don’t watch her show & mind your own goddamn business.)

Okay now that I got that off my chest: back to Xylitol. Xylitol is actually really interesting.

Xylitol (from Greek ξύλον – xyl[on], “wood” + suffix -itol, used to denote sugar alcohols; pronounced /ˈzaɪlɪtɒl/) is a sugar alcohol sweetener used as a naturally occurring sugar substitute. It is found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, including various berries, corn husks, oats, and mushrooms.[2] It can be extracted from corn fiber,[3] birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. Xylitol is roughly as sweet as sucrose with only two-thirds the food energy.

Xylitol was discovered almost simultaneously by German and French chemists in the late 19th century, and was first popularized in Europe as a safe sweetener for people with diabetes that would not impact insulin levels.[6] Its dental significance was researched in Finland in the early 1970s, when scientists at Turku University showed it had significant dental benefits.[6] Today, using hardwood or maize sources, the largest manufacturer globally is the Danish company Danisco, with several other suppliers from China.[7] Xylitol is produced by hydrogenation of xylose, which converts the sugar (an aldehyde) into a primary alcohol.

And for my purposes today, Xylitol is used as a sugar substitute for diabetics…

Diabetes mellitus, often simply referred to as diabetes—is a group of metabolic diseases in which a person has high blood sugar, either because the body does not produce enough insulin, or because cells do not respond to the insulin that is produced. This high blood sugar produces the classical symptoms of polyuria (frequent urination), polydipsia (increased thirst) and polyphagia (increased hunger).

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes: results from the body’s failure to produce insulin, and presently requires the person to inject insulin. (Also referred to as insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, IDDM for short, and juvenile diabetes.)
  • Type 2 diabetes: results from insulin resistance, a condition in which cells fail to use insulin properly, sometimes combined with an absolute insulin deficiency. (Formerly referred to as non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, NIDDM for short, and adult-onset diabetes.)
  • Gestational diabetes: is when pregnant women, who have never had diabetes before, have a high blood glucose level during pregnancy. It may precede development of type 2 DM.

Other forms of diabetes mellitus include congenital diabetes, which is due to genetic defects of insulin secretion, cystic fibrosis-related diabetes, steroid diabetes induced by high doses of glucocorticoids, and several forms of monogenic diabetes.

All forms of diabetes have been treatable since insulin became available in 1921, and type 2 diabetes may be controlled with medications. Both type 1 and 2 are chronic conditions that usually cannot be cured. Pancreas transplants have been tried with limited success in type 1 DM; gastric bypass surgery has been successful in many with morbid obesity and type 2 DM. Gestational diabetes usually resolves after delivery. Diabetes without proper treatments can cause many complications. Acute complications include hypoglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or nonketotic hyperosmolar coma. Serious long-term complications include cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure, retinal damage. Adequate treatment of diabetes is thus important, as well as blood pressure control and lifestyle factors such as smoking cessation and maintaining a healthy body weight.

As of 2000 at least 171 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes, or 2.8% of the population.[2] Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common, affecting 90 to 95% of the U.S. diabetes population.[3]

The box, in addition to having a 1lb bag of Xylitol, also included a cookbook filled with recipes for cheesecakes & buttercreams and muffins and cookies! Xylitol is perfect for using in making baked goods or even jams & jellies for diabetics:

Possessing approximately 40% less food energy,[23] xylitol is a low-calorie alternative to table sugar. Absorbed more slowly than sugar, it does not contribute to high blood sugar levels or the resulting hyperglycemia caused by insufficient insulin response. This characteristic has also proven beneficial for people suffering from metabolic syndrome, a common disorder that includes insulin resistance, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and an increased risk for blood clots.

So pretty much, as excited as I was to try it, after my uncle died my spring/summer was a landslide of drama & the Xylitol got pushed to the back of the pantry. Besides- he was the person I was curious about the Xylitol because of, and he wasn’t here to try any of my experiments with it anymore. Then my grandma passed away, and it was further forgotten. Until recently. Recently, Jay asked me to make some jam for his grandma, who’s diabetic. I said sure, but I didn’t want to make her a full-sugar jam (obviously) so I needed to get a low-sugar or sugar-free pectin. I’d heard really good things about Pomona’s Universal Pectin (which requires no sugar at all to jell but instead is activated by calcium), but I couldn’t find it for the life of me! And I had a hard time finding most of the other low/no-sugar pectin options, if you can believe it. I did have my heart set on Pomona’s, though. And then… ta-da! The natural market by my house had a display of it.

It’s a little different from regular ol’ Certo or Sure-Jell. But not that hard. The calcium water thing seems intimidating at first, but in all honesty it’s really pretty easy to get the hang of. Just an extra step. In my jam I used 50% sugar & 50% Xylitol (for a total of 1 cup; mainly I used real sugar to help keep the color nice & keep it shelf stable & fresh for longer). If you’re going to make a smaller batch, or eat it quicker, you don’t even have to worry about that. However I was concerned that she wouldn’t get around to eating 2 pints of jam within a reasonable amount of time; not to mention I didn’t want the jam to look faded or be too blah. Better safe than sorry. Anyway Jay’s grandma likes strawberry jam, so that’s what she got (remember when I mentioned strawberries & a little experiment I was doing?). I got 2 pounds of gorgeous strawberries for $2.50 at the fruit stand by my house. They were so beautiful, which is rare this time of year. Usually the pickin’s are slim when it comes to nice fresh fruit that isn’t in season. Although Florida is right in it’s strawberry growing season now, & that’s where these are from. I’m just not used to seeing such a nice selection of them here.

The recipe is from Pomona’s; it comes in the box of pectin. Super easy, very quick, and you can use any sugar substitute that measures like sugar (Splenda, Xylitol, etc) to make it sugar-free or you can use honey! You can change the amount anywhere from ¾ cup sugar to 2 cups and ½ cup to 1 cup honey or any variation thereof, including artificial sweeteners. Go nuts. The recipe can also be doubled or tripled according to Pomona’s.

LOW-SUGAR STRAWBERRY JAM (adapted from Pomona’s recipe)

Makes about 4 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups mashed strawberries (obviously washed & hulls removed)
  • ½ cup Xylitol or Splenda or honey
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons calcium water (instructions & ingredient included in Pomona’s box)
  • 2 teaspoons Pomona’s Universal pectin

Directions:

  1. Sterilize jars & lids, keeping both hot. Prepare water bath.
  2. Place strawberries in a large pot. Add calcium water and stir, then bring to a boil. Meanwhile, add pectin to sugar or honey (room temperature) and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
  3. Once strawberries have boiled, add pectin/sugar mixture; stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes until completely dissolved. Return to a boil.
  4. Remove from heat. Fill hot jars to ¼”-inch from the top, and wipe rims clean. Place lids & bands on and process for 10 minutes in a water bath. Remove from water and allow to cool. Check seals- lids should be all sucked down. The pectin completes it’s jell once it’s completely cooled. Lasts about 6-8 months on the shelf (depending how much real sugar is used), 3 weeks once opened. Change in color is usually harmless & normal.

The weird thing is no matter how much I skimmed the foam, it seemed to never fully go away. As soon as I poured it into the jars, it was foamy again, so I skimmed them as best as I could with a small spoon… but it didn’t 100% work. Maybe that’s a low-sugar thing? Or a Xylitol thing? No clue. This was my first time using such a low amount of real sugar & a sugar substitute in jam. Although as the jam cooled & settled, a lot of it did “go away”; not sure what the deal is with that.

Anyway, I was pretty proud of myself for making my first low-sugar jam, but I was a bit worried about the flavor. I read online a lot of people saying they made low-sugar jam & it was bland or runny, that got me a bit nervous. However as it cooled it set really nicely, so my worries in that department were for naught. But I was still paranoid about the taste. So I called in the cavalry- my mother was my guinea pig taste tester for the batch, & in her words: “It’s delicious, it tastes just like regular strawberry jam.”

My job here is done. And now I take a bow & make my exit.

Yup- those are cupcake liners. I used cupcake liners to dress the jars up ’cause they were perfect for it. And just as an aside: Jay’s grandma has gone through about 3 jars & it’s only been not quite 2 months. I think she likes ‘em.

And that brings an end to a sweet post about low-sugar, but-just-as-sweet, jam.

Opium cakes.

Opium den images courtesy of Retronaut

Opium used to be the big drug back in the day. I guess it was the crystal meth of the time, around the turn of the century/1920′s. It contains something like 12% morphine, and codeine & hydrocodone are derivatives of the same family of drug- hence the name opiates. It’s serious stuff. Laudanum was made from opium & alcohol & was used to treat a variety of stomach ailments fairly regularly back then. But in modern times, all we know about it is what we read from an Edgar Allan Poe story or William S. Burrough’s novels, not to mention glib pop culture references. We all remember that Seinfeld episode where Elaine’s urine test comes back positive for opium because she ate a poppy seed bagel, right? I always thought such a thing couldn’t happen, unless you eat 1,000,000 poppy seed bagels in one day. But I was wrong: eating poppy seed muffins, cakes or bagels can indeed land you in a heap of trouble. As a matter of fact, back in January of 2005, Anahad O’Connor wrote in the New York Times Science section that “eating just two poppy seed bagels heavily coated with seeds can result in morphine in a person’s system for hours, leading a routine drug test to come back positive… [therefore] because of this possibility, the federal government recently raised the threshold for opiates in workplace testing to 2,000 nanograms a milliliter, up from 300.” And by that reasoning, this cake could possibly get you fired from your job or make you lose custody of your kids. It’s loaded with poppy seeds. Loaded. Both in the cake itself and on top.

Which is fine with me. I love me some poppy seeds. Poppy seed bagels are my favorite bagels ever. So when I was reading one of the (many, many, many, as you can see here) books I got for Christmas, Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden, and I saw this triple layer poppy seed cake with almond icing, I just had to make it. I never make cakes, as you probably know. This was an exception. It’s a huge cake: a pound of butter & a half-dozen eggs. But worth it. However… I ended up halving the recipe & making two dozen cupcakes instead. I know, I know.

But it just seemed so big. So many eggs, so much butter, etc. And it is big, because if half the recipe makes two dozen cupcakes, the whole recipe must make FOUR DOZEN. That is huge. And crazy. And ¼ cup of poppy seeds is a lot of poppy seeds. It’s a wonder I didn’t get high off it. As far as the taste goes, they were pretty unique, I have to say. Very different, but I loved them. Cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, poppy seeds, almond extract & the tang from the vinegar-milk combination; all very subtle but what flavor! A surprisingly delicious winter cupcake. Moist cake filled with tons of warming spices, albeit subtle like I said, and then some crunch from the seeds. I topped them with the almond buttercream from the book and then some little flowers made of almond slices with poppy seeds for centers. Really cute, I thought. Next time, however, I’d make little red poppies out of fondant. ‘Cause that’d be doubly cute.

Of course, I’m giving you the adapted cupcake version of the recipe that I made. For the full cake recipe, you’ll have to buy the book. Bwahahaha.

POPPY SEED CUPCAKES WITH ALMOND BUTTERCREAM ICING (adapted from a recipe by Lisa Goldstein of Celo, NC, from Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden)

Ingredients:

Cake:
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, at room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 1 cup milk at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons pure almond extract
  • 1 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • a pinch of ground cardamom
  • ¼ cup poppy seeds
Icing:
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, room temperature
  • 2 ½ – 3 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon pure almond extract
  • 2-3 tablespoons half-and-half (plus more if needed)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites together with the cream of tartar on high speed, until soft peaks form. Set aside.
  2. In a separate bowl of the stand mixer, this time fitted with the paddle, cream the butter, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy. While beating on low speed, add egg yolks, one at a time. Beat after each addition. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl, and beat again until the mixture is smooth, light and creamy.
  3. In a glass measuring cup, combine the milk, vinegar and almond extract. Set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg. Add that mixture to the creamed butter mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk mixture, and mixing lightly but thoroughly between each addition, until ingredients are just combined.
  5. Add the poppy seeds, folding them in by hand until combined. Quickly re-whisk the egg whites by hand if they’ve separated, then fold them into the batter gently, in three batches.
  6. Add cupcake liners to muffin tins and fill each with batter, around two-thirds full. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in each cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool 10 minutes in tins, then remove to wire rack. Cool thoroughly before frosting.
  7. To make the icing, cream the butter and confectioner’s sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer until it makes a thick paste. add and combine the vanilla & almond extracts. Then add the half-and-half, one tablespoon at a time, blending on low speed until fully incorporated.
  8. Add more if needed to achieve a creamy, fluffy consistency. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the paddle, bottom and sides of the bowl. Re-mix until no lumps remain.

Excuse the frosting job on the back left one; I was trying to find the best way of doing it

They came out really rustic-looking. So much so I almost wish I had one of those cake stands made of an old tree. They’d be so sweet on one of those. Dammit, I wish I had one now! I’m going to have to get my hands on some cut down trees & get Jay to start cuttin’ it up! He’s a big, handy fella. He can do it. Why buy when you can DIY!

If you’re looking for a unique recipe to try, this is it. It’d be fabulous as a triple layer cake, too, of course. And in case you’re wondering, I got a lot of cookbooks for Christmas, so you’ll be seeing a lot of recipes from them in the coming months. And I’m not into New Year’s resolutions so they’ll be loaded with butter & eggs & sugar. I’ve got to maintain my girlish figure somehow.

And if poppy seeds don’t interest you, later on this week there’ll be a post featuring a giveaway I’m doing together with Yoyo from Topstitch, so keep your eyes peeled.

Would you like some scones & tea? Some jelly? Some tea-jelly?

Now that Halloween is over, it seems like its a landslide right through the holidays. Although before the mad rush of December starts, & before the long cold winter sets in (blah), it’s nice to take advantage of the down time, lazy weekends & of course, the beautiful fall weather. It finally got here! We had to battle 80° degree days, tons of rain & even snow right before Halloween, then 35° degree nights for a while there… but finally we got a bit of fall-ish weather. Cooler, but actually more on the cold side. Drier. Gorgeous changing leaves finally. Nice weather for a heavy sweater & apple cider or tea around the fire pit at night. It’s no secret I like my tea. All kinds, from regular old Lipton, to fancier ones like Stash’s Earl Grey Black or Licorice Spice, to classic ones like Twining’s Irish Breakfast, to healthy ones like Yogi Egyptian Licorice to even fancier ones like, oh, say anything from Teavana. Ahh, Teavana.

Teavana teas are the best. I am in love with them. My personal favorites (for drinking) are Cacao Mint Black, Samurai Chai Mate/White Ayurvedic Chai blend and JavaVana Mate. However I haven’t found one yet that I’m not into. My mother has a ton of them that her friend Mara (hi, Mara!) sent her in a ‘Tea Lovers’ gift set, so that’s where I go when I want to try a new flavor. Or when I want to experiment. Like, for example, what I wanted to do when I got this particular book.

A few months ago, I ordered a book that I had been sorta lusting over for a while. It’s called Canning For a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff/photographs by Rinne Allen. It arrived on a warm (okay- muggy, hot & slightly stifling), beautiful August day during which I had been out gardening, so I only briefly flipped through it at first. After cleaning up, coming inside & showering, I settled in with a can of ice cold Coke Zero & pored over every page. What a freakin’ gorgeous book! Filled with amazing recipes (not just canning but baking too!) and glorious photos. If you don’t have it, buy it. You won’t regret it.

One of the recipes in this book was a recipe for tea jelly. Just jelly made with tea. Well, tea, sugar, pectin and lemon juice. Sort of like an iced tea jelly, or a sweet tea jelly. I knew I had to make it. So I did. And the tea I used was Teavana’s Frutto Bianco Pearls white tea, which is described as:

Tropical fruits effortlessly complement hand-rolled, delicate white tea pearls. A blend of kiwi, coconut and candied tropical fruit bits tempt you to pull up a hammock and sip your cares away! Ingredients: white tea, apples, rose hips, lemongrass, citrus pieces, kiwi bits, coconut chips, lemon myrtle, candied pineapple & papaya.

-From Teavana.com

I know, it sounds to die for. It is. And I thought it’d make a fantastic jelly.

The tea in the canister.

It did indeed make a beautiful looking jelly…

I have to say, I love all the recipes for tea-infused jellies & jams (as if you couldn’t tell?). It’s such an easy way to really make an average every day item stand out. It turns an ordinary preserve into something different, something that people can’t quite put their finger on. My family has a big history with tea; being Irish, my Nana Agnes’ side of the family drank tea like it was going out of style..I was raised on it, although coffee was a big part of life too, tea seemed to be the main component. It was always around.. black teas, green teas, herbal teas, sweetened with milk & sugar or just honey. When I was sick as a kid, my mom or nana would make me a big mug of tea with milk & sugar, and even now whenever I’m not feeling my best, I find that it’s a great cure. Tea is a huge part of my childhood memories. Now that I’m older, & my tastes have matured slightly, I like fancier stuff; but I always have a soft spot for a hot cup of black tea or English breakfast tea with milk & sugar.

So I made the jelly, labeled it, and put it aside. I sent a jar to Lyns (upon her request & also as payment for all the chutney’s she sent!) and promptly shoved my jars to the back of the line. Then recently, one Sunday morning, I was looking for another jam and found it! And I thought, “I need to make something special to serve this with.” So I took out a jar and I made some scones from the book, Regan’s Oat Scones, just specifically to have with this delicious jelly, for a brunch/lunch kinda thing.

Speaking of, you can use any tea you like, even herbal tea if you can’t tolerate caffeine, to make this jelly. Liana says she’s had excellent results with Oolong & Earl Grey, but I don’t see why you couldn’t use pretty much any kind of tea there is. Even pre-measured tea bags (although you’d typically need about 3 teabags to each tablespoon loose tea required). Trader Joe’s makes a white pomegranate tea that’d probably give lovely results, & my mother drinks a spicy vanilla chai by Bigelow that would also make a great jelly. Peppermint teas, citrus teas, musky teas. EXPERIMENT! Use a wintery blend for winter, a spring-y one for warmer weather… it’d be such a fun way to try new teas in a different way.

TEA JELLY (adapted from Liana Krisstoff’s book, Canning For a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry)

Makes 3 half-pint jars

Ingredients:

  • 6 tablespoons loose tea leaves
  • 2 ¼ cups boiling water
  • ¼ cup strained fresh lemon juice
  • 3 ¼ cups sugar
  • 3 cups of Green Apple Pectin stock (see recipe below) or what I did- 1 package Certo liquid pectin

Directions:

  1. Prepare for water bath canning: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot (in water) in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Put the tea leaves in a heatproof bowl and pour in the boiling water. Let steep for 5 minutes*, then pour through a sieve into a 6-to 8-quart saucepan.
  3. Stir the pectin/pectin stock, lemon juice and sugar into the tea. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers about 220° F on a candy thermometer or a small dab of it passes the freezer test (place some on the frozen plate and put back in the freezer for one minute, then remove; if the mixture wrinkles when you nudge it, it’s ready), about 25-30 minutes.
  4. Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a clean, folded dish towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
  5. Ladle the hot jelly into the jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid & band on each jar, adjusting the band so it’s fingertip tight.
  6. Return the jars to the canning pot in a canning rack, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to the folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours, except to check the seal after one hour by pressing down on the center of each lid; if it can be pushed down it hasn’t sealed, and must be refrigerated immediately. After 12 hours, label sealed jars & store.

Instead of printing labels, I just tied some of the labels that come with the book (YES! Labels come with the book! SO CUTE!) on with some twine.

How cute are they? Very. How awful is my handwriting? Very.

The deliciously special item I chose to make to eat it with was a scone. Not just any scone- but one made with oats, yogurt and honey (or maple syrup, but I used honey). Add the tea-infused jelly as a topping and it’s a free train ride to dreamy-town. I love scones anyway, but these are totally different than any other scones I’ve made. And with the jelly; seriously just forget it. No words. I halved this recipe because 5 eggs was a bit ridiculous at the time, although I wish I hadn’t! You can never have too many scones… especially these beautiful scones right here.

REGAN’S OAT SCONES (from Canning For a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry)

Ingredients:

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup quick-cooking (not instant) oats, plus extra for sprinkling (if desired)
  • 2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 cups (4 sticks) cold unsalted butter, diced
  • ½ cup yogurt
  • ½ cup honey or maple syrup
  • 5 large eggs
  • turbinado sugar (optional, for sprinkling)

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flours, oats, baking powder, sugar and salt. Using your fingertips, two knives held together, or a pastry cutter, cut in the butter until the largest pieces are the size of peas.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, honey or maple syrup, and 4 of the eggs. Pour the mixture into the flour mixture and stir until just incorporated; do not overmix.. The dough will be somewhat sticky.
  4. Turn out the dough onto a well-floured surface. Flour your hands, then pat the dough out to ¾” to 1″ inch thick. Cut into 2 ½” inch rounds and place on the prepared baking sheets. Gather up leftover dough, handling it as little as possible, and pat it out to cut more rounds. If the kitchen is warm, put the baking sheets in the fridge for 30 minutes or so to firm up, so they don’t spread too much in the oven.
  5. In a small bowl whisk the remaining egg together with 2 teaspoons cold water and brush the tops of the scones with it. Sprinkle with oats or turbinado sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating and switching the pans halfway through, until deep golden brown. Remove to wire racks.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature, preferably split & spread with jam or jelly.

I got about 19 scones using the above recipe halved & using my 3-inch biscuit cutter to make them. You may think that’s plenty, but not when there are a ton of grabby hands around asking for baked goods all the time! I also used oats & gold crystal sugar (instead of turbinado) on top. They were so amazing, I could barely stop eating them. Thankfully, they’re (slightly) healthier than most scones. Sweet, but not too sweet. They’d work beautifully alongside a savory jelly too, I bet. Like a pepper jelly that’s on the sweeter side?

As I mentioned above in the tea jelly recipe, the author Liana prefers to use a homemade pectin stock for her jellies & jams. I am not so particular, but I’ll include the directions for doing so here just in case you’re far more ambitious than I. I’m lazy, remember? But now is a great time to do this because of the crazy amount of apples available. It’s apple season, after all. Make some & stock up on it if you’re not a lazy bitch. Like me.

GREEN APPLE PECTIN STOCK (also from Canning For a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry)

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 3 pounds Granny Smith apples

Directions:

  1. Cut the apples into eighths, removing the stems, and put the apples- peels, cores, seeds & all- in a 6-to 8-quart saucepan. Add 6 cups water, cover, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil, stirring occasionally, until the apples are completely broken down and the peels have separated from the pulp, 30-40 minutes.
  2. Set a very large, very fine mesh sieve (or jelly bag) over a deep bowl or pot. Pour the apples and their juice into the sieve and let drain for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally but not pressing down too hard on the solids; discard the solids. You should have about 5 ½ cups juice.
  3. Rinse the saucepan and pour in the apple juice. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until the juice is reduced to about 3 cups (pour into a large heatproof measuring cup to check it), about 20 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a clean container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for several months.

Lyns had tried the jar I sent her long before I remembered mine, and she said it was amazing- I have to agree. This tea made a spectacular jelly! It also just goes to show you that you don’t have to make the pectin stock to get a delicious jelly. Of course, I’m sure it feels slightly more rewarding if you do. But lazy bitches unite- we don’t need no stinking apple stock. We have modern convenience at our fingertips.

..

And the scones, they are phenomenal. Together, they’d be a great pair on Thanksgiving morning for breakfast. They have a sweet/not sweet borderline flavor that makes them more biscuit-y & perfect for accompanying a hearty bacon & eggs breakfast too. Also would be excellent on a cold winter’s night, right before bed. I had mine warm, and I definitely think they’re best eaten that way. Warm yours up if you’re eating them the next day, etc, or even toast them.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, it’s almost that time! With each post, as I did for Halloween, I’m going to post a vintage or retro postcard, just because I like ‘em.